'Post-truth' is Oxford Dictionaries' word of the year

LONDON • "Post-truth" was proclaimed international word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries yesterday after beating off "alt-right" and "Brexiteer", a choice that the publisher said reflected a year defined by emotive political discourse.

The compound adjective was defined as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief".

Oxford Dictionaries said use of the word "post-truth" had increased this year by about 2,000 per cent compared with its usage last year, linking the spike to Britain's referendum on European Union membership and the American presidential election.

"It's not surprising that our choice reflects a year dominated by highly charged political and social discourse," said Mr Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries, which publishes the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary and other works.

The publisher said its word of the year process aims to select a word that "captures the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year".

"Given that usage of the term hasn't shown any signs of slowing down, I wouldn't be surprised if 'post-truth' becomes one of the defining words of our time," Mr Grathwohl said.

The publisher traced the first use of the word to a 1992 essay by late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation magazine about the Iran-Contra scandal and the Gulf War.

"We, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world," Mr Tesich wrote.

"There is evidence of the phrase 'post-truth' being used before Tesich's article, but apparently with the transparent meaning 'after the truth was known' and not with the new implication that truth itself has become irrelevant," Oxford Dictionaries said in a press statement.

The shortlist for the 2016 title also included "alt-right", defined as "an ideological grouping associated with extreme conservative or reactionary viewpoints, characterised by a rejection of mainstream politics and by the use of online media to disseminate deliberately controversial content".

United States President-elect Donald Trump's appointment of anti-establishment media firebrand Steve Bannon - seen as a leader of the "alt-right" movement - as his chief of staff earlier this week has proved to be highly controversial.

Other shortlisted words related to political or social events included "Brexiteer", a person in favour of Britain withdrawing from the EU, and "woke", an adjective defined as "alert to injustice in society, especially racism".

Oxford Dictionaries said "woke" had been in use by African-American communities for decades but had been introduced to a broader audience this year through the use of the phrase"stay woke" by supporters of the US Black Lives Matter movement.

Last year, the word of the year was a pictograph for the first time, the "Face With Tears of Joy" emoji. In the preceding year, 2014, the title went to "vape", the act of inhaling and exhaling the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2016, with the headline ''Post-truth' is Oxford Dictionaries' word of the year'. Subscribe